Sunday Reflections: This time it’s personal
When I found out we were going to have our first child, no one was more surprised than me. It took me a while to get used to the idea. I had just started my dream library job – and I do mean just – and I had at some point written off the idea of motherhood. But there we were, about to have a baby.
Fast forward to the 12 week mark and the real question on my mind was urgent: “Please tell me there is only one!” The Mr. is a twin and I wasn’t prepared for one baby, so I desperately hoped there was not two. But then the ultrasound tech gave me information that kicked me in the gut: “You’re having a girl.” I was surprised by how upset I was by this proclamation, not because I didn’t want a girl, but because having been a girl my entire life, I was well aware of how hard this world can be for girls. It’s one of the reasons I always knew I wanted to work with teens, to help them navigate the teenage years. I have come to understand just how much our young people need adults who respect and care about them in their lives. I have signed up to be that person time and time again.
I now have two girls, one of whom is almost a teenager, and I see the very things happening to her that I feared. She is too smart for her class, reads voraciously, and is sometimes alienated and mocked for being intelligent and academically driven. She is a perfectionist (I have no idea where she gets this from, certainly not her highly organized librarian mother). Sometimes shy. She is messy and glorious and full of potential and overwhelmed by the world, just as pretty much every pre-teen and early teen I have worked with over the past 20 years is.
I was a child of the military and divorce. There are two things I wanted desperately for my own children: to live in the same house and community for their entire lives and to stay married. So it broke my heart when two years ago we had to move from Ohio to Texas for The Mr.’s job (curse you broken economy). It is possible that I have taken the move much harder than the girls because I feel like I have failed them and broken the one promise that I made – you will be loved, you will have roots, you will be part of a community. And here we are strangers in this new land without a very good road map sometimes wondering if food will magically appear in our cupboards.
And I feel the weight of the broken promise more intensely as I see my daughter struggle to make friends in this new place, see her struggle to make connections to people who already have strong connections with others. Just as I did every time we moved. Being the new girl – or the new kid – is a repeating theme in literature for very real reasons; it can be a very perilous and bumpy path to journey on and the destination is not always clear.
A year ago a new family moved in nearby. Like us, they had lost a lot everything due to the economy and they were struggling to start over. It seemed like they were each being given a gift: a friend who was going through the exact same thing as the other. But friendship is hard. There are words misspoken and misunderstood, broken promises, broken hearts and a delicate dance of growing towards and pushing apart that seems to happen. Young teens in particular are still trying to figure this friendship thing out, still trying to figure out who they are, still trying to navigate the perilous waters of emotional intimacy and self-preservation. Books can be life preservers that help them think about and learn relationship skills, but they certainly won’t do the actual dirty work of living for you.
Last night I popped popcorn and wrapped by daughter in a blanket. As we settle in to watch Doctor Who and read a book together, she once again cries herself to sleep because of something that happened. “She really hurt me mom,” the Tween says, “She has broken my trust.” I know all too well what she is saying. I have seen it happen time and time again for 20 years as a person who works with teens. And I remember it all too well as someone who experienced it myself. But this time it is personal; it’s not just me trying to help one of my teens navigate the choppy waters of adolescence, this is my daughter. My flesh and my blood, my heart that walks outside my body. Luckily for us, I know just the book for this. So I open the book and begin to read aloud. Maybe this memory of reading together can overwrite the memory that caused it. Maybe this book can be a balm to heal this wound.
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About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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